Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Keeping your balance

Identification of key neurons that sense unexpected motion has significant implications for motion sickness

It happens to all of us at least once each winter in Montreal. You're walking on the sidewalk and before you know it you are slipping on a patch of ice hidden under a dusting of snow. Sometimes you fall.

Surprisingly often you manage to recover your balance and walk away unscathed. McGill researchers now understand what's going on in the brain when you manage to recover your balance in these situations. And it is not just a matter of good luck.

Prof. Kathleen Cullen and her PhD student Jess Brooks of the Dept of Physiology have been able to identify a distinct and surprisingly small cluster of cells deep within the brain that react within milliseconds to readjust our movements when something unexpected happens, whether it is slipping on ice or hitting a rock when skiing. What is astounding is that each individual neuron in this tiny region that is smaller than a pin's head displays the ability to predict and selectively respond to unexpected motion.

This finding both overturns current theories about how we learn to maintain our balance as we move through the world, and also has significant implications for understanding the neural basis of motion sickness.

Scientists have theorized for some time that we fine-tune our movements and maintain our balance, thanks to a neural library of expected motions that we gain through "sensory conflicts" and errors. "Sensory conflicts" occur when there is a mismatch between what we think will happen as we move through the world and the sometimes contradictory information that our senses provide to us about our movements.

This kind of "sensory conflict" may occur when our bodies detect motion that our eyes cannot see (such as during plane, ocean or car travel), or when our eyes perceive motion that our bodies cannot detect (such as during an IMAX film, when the camera swoops at high speed over the edge of steep cliffs and deep into gorges and valleys while our bodies remain sitting still). These "sensory conflicts" are also responsible for the feelings of vertigo and nausea that are associated with motion sickness.

But while the areas of the brain involved in estimating spatial orientation have been identified for some time, until now, no one has been able to either show that distinct neurons signaling "sensory conflicts" existed, nor demonstrate exactly how they work. "We've known for some time that the cerebellum is the part of the brain that takes in sensory information and then causes us to move or react in appropriate ways," says Prof. Cullen. "But what's really exciting is that for the first time we show very clearly how the cerebellum selectively encodes unexpected motion, to then send our body messages that help us maintain our balance. That it is such a very exact neural calculation is exciting and unexpected."

By demonstrating that these "sensory conflict" neurons both exist and function by making choices "on the fly" about which sensory information to respond to, Cullen and her team have made a significant advance in our understanding of how the brain works to keep our bodies in balance as we move about.

The research was done by recording brain activity in macaque monkeys who were engaged in performing specific tasks while at the same time being unexpectedly moved around by flight-simulator style equipment.

To read the full paper in Current Biology:

The research was funded by the Fonds de Recherche du Québec Nature et Technologies and Canadian Institutes of Health Research as well as through a National Institutes of Health grant.

Cynthia Lee | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht First time-lapse footage of cell activity during limb regeneration
25.10.2016 | eLife

nachricht Phenotype at the push of a button
25.10.2016 | Institut für Pflanzenbiochemie

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Etching Microstructures with Lasers

Ultrafast lasers have introduced new possibilities in engraving ultrafine structures, and scientists are now also investigating how to use them to etch microstructures into thin glass. There are possible applications in analytics (lab on a chip) and especially in electronics and the consumer sector, where great interest has been shown.

This new method was born of a surprising phenomenon: irradiating glass in a particular way with an ultrafast laser has the effect of making the glass up to a...

Im Focus: Light-driven atomic rotations excite magnetic waves

Terahertz excitation of selected crystal vibrations leads to an effective magnetic field that drives coherent spin motion

Controlling functional properties by light is one of the grand goals in modern condensed matter physics and materials science. A new study now demonstrates how...

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Greater Range and Longer Lifetime

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

VDI presents International Bionic Award of the Schauenburg Foundation

26.10.2016 | Awards Funding

3-D-printed magnets

26.10.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering

More VideoLinks >>>